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Hala Gorani Tonight

Following U.S. Airstrikes, Iraqi Government Requests End to Fighting; Hate Crimes Charges Filed in Latest Anti-Semitic Attack; Somalian Car Bombing Kills 85; White House Confirms Trump Spoke To Putin By Phone; Thousands Told It's Too Dangerous To Evacuate; U.N. Millions Face Starvation In Zimbabwe From Drought; Chinese Gene-editing Scientist Sentenced To Prison; Top Nine International Stories Of 2019. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 14:00   ET



HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Hala Gorani.

Tonight, Iraq and Iran, both promising consequences for U.S. airstrikes. Then, federal hate crime charges filed against the suspect in an attack on

a New York Jewish community. We have the latest.

Plus, authorities in parts of Australia say it is now too late to leave safely as bushfires continue to rage.

And, later, Sharon Stone kicked off of Bumble because potential matches thought her account just couldn't be real.

And we start with Iraq, calling it an unacceptable vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences. Iran is calling it terrorism. We begin

with blowback to deadly U.S. airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia facilities in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon says the strikes were in response to repeated militia attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. It says it hit five locations along the

Iraqi-Syrian border, including weapons depots and command-and-control centers.

Now, Iraqi sources are saying that at least 25 militia fighters were killed. As for the American secretary of state, he says the strikes were

defensive but also meant to prevent future attacks. Listen to Mike Pompeo.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It was aimed also at deterring Iran. This was an Iranian-backed rogue militia, acting to deny the Iraqi people

their basic sovereignty. It's Qassem Soleimani, it's the ayatollah working to expand their terror campaign all around the world.

They took a strike at an American facility. President Trump's been pretty darn patient, and he's made clear at the same time that when Americans'

lives were at risk, we would respond. And that's what the Department of Defense did yesterday.


GORANI: So Iraq says this is a violation of their sovereignty. They are threatening to review their relations with Washington, saying that the

strikes essentially violated their country's ability to manage their own affairs. They also say they won't tolerate Iraq becoming a battlefield for

international conflict, in their words, becoming a "proxy battlefield" for a fight between the United States and Iran.

Arwa Damon is following developments tonight from Istanbul with more. So talk to us first about the militia that was targeted. What do we know

about these fighters inside of Iraq?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite a bit actually, Hala, because they've been around since the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq,

emerging in around 2006, 2007. They're called Kata'ib Hezbollah, and they're one of the more powerful Shia militias that exist in Iraq, and they

do have very close ties to Iran.

Back in the days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, they were part of this umbrella group that the Americans called the special groups. And this was

a group of very powerful militias that were armed, trained, funded by the Iranians.

Fast-forward to 2014, Hala, you have ISIS taking over huge swaths of Iraq, and Kata'ib Hezbollah, along with other Shia militias, ended up making up

the backbone of this --


DAMON: -- popular mobilization force, this paramilitary force that was instrumental in recapturing some parts of Iraq from ISIS.

So this group is quite entrenched in Iraq's history, and not always necessarily in the most productive of manners, to say the least --


DAMON: -- but also, it's a group that is part of this entity that's meant to be part of the Iraqi security forces, although Baghdad doesn't really

have much control over them. They are very, very close to Iran.

GORANI: Yes. So they were attacking -- this is what the Americans say -- that they were attacking American forces inside of Iraq. That America, the

United States, had no choice but to defend itself by targeting them. But the Iraqi government is extremely angry about this, saying this is

violating our sovereignty.

DAMON: Yes, they are. And, you know, the U.S. secretary of defense, Mark Esper, had actually contacted Iraq's caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul

Mahdi, about half an hour before these strikes took place. And Adel Abdul Mahdi had asked the U.S. not to go forward with this.


Because the Iraqi government, for quite some time now, has been really asking Washington and Tehran to stop using Iraq as a proxy battlefield.

The country can't handle any more instability. And so, you know, Adel Abdul Mahdi has been saying, look --


DAMON: -- you violated our sovereignty and this is going to cause even more instability. And now the government wants to sort of review its

relationship with the United States. Because again, in theory, this militia is part of this broader paramilitary force that, again, in theory,

is part of the Iraqi security forces. So an attack on it is being viewed by some as an attack on the Iraqi security forces themselves.

GORANI: Arwa Damon, thanks very much, our senior international correspondent covering this story live.

John Kirby joins me now, our CNN military and diplomatic analyst. He's a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, who also served as assistant U.S.

secretary of state for public affairs. So, John, the militia itself is vowing to retaliate. How likely is an escalation here?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think that's always a risk, Arwa (sic). I think -- and I think the Defense Department is

certainly considering that as one potential outcome here. I'm not quite sure we're talking about an escalation of a major conflict, though. I

would not be surprised if the militia groups, backed by Tehran, retaliate in some way. Probably not in kind, but in some way. That tends to be their

modus operandi.

But whether that expands into a larger regional conflict, I find that rather doubtful. They know the force structure that we have in the region,

they know the consequences of this bleeding over into state-on-state conflict. I just don't personally think that that's --

GORANI: But the two countries are --

KIRBY: -- that's a likely outcome.

GORANI: -- essentially -- John, the two countries are essentially fighting each other inside of Iraq. The Iraqis are saying, stop using us as a proxy

battlefield. Is the -- does the Iraqi government have a point?

KIRBY: Well, I would like to see the Iraqis complain and condemn the Iranian Shia militia that are, you know, firing on coalition U.S. forces

inside Iraq too, if they want to claim that this -- these airstrikes were a violation of their national sovereignty, you would hope and expect that

they would have the same reaction when the Iranians do it as well.

And as for, you know, the proxy war, yes, certainly, we have been fighting Iranian Shia-backed militias and forces inside Iraq since the invasion of

Iraq. They've been there for a long time, this is nothing new. But I don't believe that this necessarily has to portend some state-on-state

conflict or a major conflagration in the region.

What needs to be done is, A, the message needs to be sent, I think, to try to deter the militias from doing these attacks in the future. And then,

number two, to make sure that we've taken a hard look at our force posture there in Iraq and in the region, so that we're ready for any potential

retaliation on the back end.

GORANI: What does the U.S., at this point, want? What does the Trump administration want right now, to achieve in Iraq and Syria when it comes

to these militia forces?

KIRBY: That's a very, very good question and I don't even think they have a good answer for it. When they hear "Iran," they automatically think

maximum pressure. They already -- they've -- they're anti-the Iran deal, and they want to put maximum pressure on Iran to stop their malign

activities in the region, which is fine, noteworthy goal.

But they haven't really had a cohesive policy with respect to dealing with Iran and Iraq and their influence in Syria. In fact, they have given Iran

some gifts by pulling our troops precipitously out of Syria, which Iran wanted to use as a throughway to Hezbollah --


KIRBY: -- and they have done -- we've done good work with the Iraqi security forces in Iraq against ISIS, but we've done nothing consequential

to stem the use of these militias inside Iraq.

And the other thing I'd say is that these militias aren't just a military capability in Iraq, they are a growing and increasing political power

inside Iraq. And Iraq, as you know and have covered this, lots of protests against the government in Iraq --


KIRBY: -- very -- a lot of dissatisfaction with corruption and poor governance, and the Shia militias are taking full advantage of that from a

political perspective as well.

GORANI: All right. Still so much dysfunction -- political dysfunction in that country. Thanks very much. John Kirby, joining us live from


Staying in the United States -- or moving to the United States now -- U.S. prosecutors in New York are filing federal hate crime charges against the

man suspected of stabbing five people at a rabbi's home. Families were there to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah. That's when the suspect

walked in and began attacking people randomly inside the rabbi's house. It is the latest in a series of violent apparently anti-Semitic acts in the

area in recent weeks.

Now, no one was killed, but it could have been worse. One man talked with CNN about his own brave decision to fight back during the attack.


JOSEF GLUCK, HELPED STOP ATTACK IN RABBI'S HOME: I was sitting in the rabbi's dining room. Just when the rabbi finished the candle-lighting

ceremony, an attacker came in. He first stood in the entry room and started hitting people right and left with his big machete knife -- I don't

know what it was.


And then that's when I started to run out through a side door, to get all the people in the dining room. We ran out through the back of the house,

through the back of the door -- the back door outside. I ran back to the front door to see if I could help anyone from the other side.

That's where the -- that's where -- that's when -- sorry, I'm a bit tired - - that's when I -- that's when I came back in to the other guy who had the brain -- the brain -- the brain fracture, was still standing there,

bleeding. And I asked him, let's go, come out, come out. The guy is still -- the guy is still in the kitchen, the attacker's still in the kitchen,

let's go out.

He said, I can't, I'm bleeding, I can't. That's when I saw him coming back towards me. I ran out, and I saw that he went to the old guy, I came back

in with -- I came back in, grabbed the coffee table that was on the floor, hit him in his face. That's when he came back outside, after me.

He told me, hey, you, I'll get you. And he started walking towards me, and I was running, I was going before him like a few feet, screaming, he's

coming, he's coming, everybody in the synagogue should run away.

He went almost to the door of the synagogue. He reached for the door, it was locked. He ran to the next door, it was locked too. That's when he

walked down the -- he walked down a side street towards his (ph) car (ph). I didn't know where he walking to, and I walked with him slowly. He said

it's (ph) his car, I looked for his plate number, called 911.

When I came back up the street, the police officers were already there.


GLUCK: I don't feel like a hero. I feel God is a hero, and he sent me in the right place at the right time, and he gave me the right set of mind. I

don't know why -- I don't know if I would have done it tomorrow or yesterday. In that exact moment, that's what God gave me and that's why --

that's how I reacted.


GORANI: One of the survivors.

Brynn Gingras is in Monsey, New York, where the attack happened. First of all, the latest on the investigation. There's a suspect in custody, do we

know anything about -- has he said anything about an alleged motive here?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Authorities really are trying to figure out the motive. They haven't really detailed exactly why the

suspect chose this home behind me. Again, he lives about 30 minutes from here, so it is strange that this is the particular home he picked to

allegedly, you know, go on this rampage.

But we're learning more, Hala, through the criminal complaint that was filed in criminal court just a few hours ago, where he is now charged with

five hate crime-related federal charges. And in that criminal complaint, investigators really detail a lot of evidence that they found, both talking

to witnesses of this attack, but also in his car, when he was pulled over in New York City, and also in his home, again, 30 minutes from here.

And according to the complaint, investigators not only saw him when they arrested him covered in blood, and he smelled of bleach, but they say they

found a knife, they found a machete. They also found a cell phone in his car, which they're running forensics on.

And also, in his home, authorities say they found journals with anti- Semitic writings in them. And some of -- online searches as well, as they're finding within a computer. And we're learning some of those online

searches had questions such as, "German-Jewish temples near me." So it's possible he even just did a search to find what was going on here that


The most recent search, happening the night before this attack was carried out, according to investigators.

GORANI: And talk to us a little bit about the community reaction to this horrific attack?

GINGRAS: Yes. The community is really just trying to deal with all of this. It's shocking of course because it's not just this attack, as the

governor has laid out; there have been 13 anti-Semitic attacks in the state, just within the last few weeks. There's been one in the state every

day during Hanukkah. So it's just alarming in general. But the community, really, here in Monsey, is standing their ground. Last night, they

celebrated the final day of Hanukkah.

And we actually witnessed a really powerful moment a little bit earlier this morning, when we saw a family drive up to the rabbi's house and come

out with flowers. It was a Muslim family, a man and his wife and their son, giving flowers and saying, you know, it doesn't matter what faith you

are, but we are -- we are one humanity. We need to stick together. Take a quick listen to what she also said about coming here.


AZADEH HAIATI, CAME TO PAY RESPECTS: The reason I'm here is because I read the news yesterday, and it was so shocking for me to read that these people

are praying in their homes and celebrating in their homes, and someone comes, knocked on the door and want to hurt them and did hurt them? It's

beyond -- it's beyond insanity.

How much -- how much can we sink (ph)?



GINGRAS: So, clearly, you're seeing it's really hit people -- not here just in Monsey -- at the core, but in surrounding communities as well, of

different faiths. As of this -- for the suspect, it's unclear when exactly he will appear in federal court on these new charges, but he is set to

appear in court on Friday for these attempted murder charges -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Brynn Gingras there in Monsey, New York, where that attack took place at a rabbi's home, five people wounded as a result.

And by the way, this is striking a chord with people in Israel, where we find our Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: News of the attack broke early Sunday morning in Israel, just as the country was starting its work week and

getting ready for the eighth and final night of Hanukkah. The chairman of the Jewish Agency says the attack in Monsey, New York turned the festival

of lights into dark days.

On the holidays, when Jews are supposed to be able to feel their safest, whether they're celebrating at home or at a synagogue or with a

congregation, these are the days when Jews are being targeted. We saw it, obviously, with the attack here in Monsey, New York, on the seventh night

of Hanukkah. And we saw it in Pittsburgh and in San Diego, two attacks that happened on the Sabbath.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack at his weekly cabinet meeting.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Israel strongly condemns the latest surge of anti-Semitism and the brutal attack

in the middle of the Hanukkah holiday at the rabbi's house in Monsey, New York. We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded.

LIEBERMANN: Beyond simply offering well wishes, Netanyahu pledged Israel's aid, not only to local authorities in New York, but also to any country

that's interested in looking for help in fighting anti-Semitism.

Next month, Israel will host a conference about anti-Semitism at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum. The conference will coincide with the

75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Heads of state will be here, world leaders and dignitaries, trying to

figure out and discuss how to fight anti-Semitism.

For Yad Vashem, at least part of that answer is education, education about anti-Semitism and about the Holocaust. But it'll take more than that.

This conference has taken on added significance in light of the attack in Monsey and all of the other anti-Semitic incidents in New York and


As the chairman of the Jewish Agency pointed out, anti-Semitism is a symptom of a bigger problem. He said it begins with the Jews, but it never

ends with just the Jews. This isn't a problem of only Monsey or New York or America, and it should be treated as a much bigger phenomenon.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.


GORANI: And police are trying to figure out the motive behind another weekend attack on a religious community in the United States. A man opened

fire inside a Texas church, Sunday. He killed two people before a volunteer security guard quickly gunned him down.

Church surveillance video captured exactly what happened. This is some disturbing video. Take a look.


GORANI: So the third shot is the shot that took the shooter down. The first two were shots fired by the shooter, who was seen asking something to

one of the men at the top left-hand side of the screen. CNN's Lucy Kafanov is on the scene with the very latest.

And, again, it seems to be the question of the day. Do we know anything about the motive here, what prompted this man to want to kill people in a


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no information about the motive as of now, but we are getting more details about the background of

this gunman. His identity has not been released, but the FBI described him as someone who is transient, who has had numerous encounters with the law,

he's been arrested in several different municipalities. We don't yet know for what, but we do know that he was not on any sort of a watch list.

I can tell you that we heard from the attorney general, Ken Paxton, here. He had some additional information about the gunman's potential background.

Take a listen.


KEN PAXTON, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Actually (ph) he's been here, I think, several times. And they always -- or I think, from my understanding, they

were very open to helping people that are transient, they're homeless or they just need help. And so I think they welcome those people into their

church, and they welcomed this guy into their church.

My understanding, he's more of a loner and probably going to be very difficult to determine exactly what his motivations were, other than maybe

mental illness.


KAFANOV: Now, Hala, whatever the gunman's motivations were, we may never find out. He's dead, there's been no writings discovered so far. But we

do know that this tragedy could have been much worse in terms of death toll, nearly 250 people inside that church behind me, yesterday, during

those services, when the gunfire was opened.


And it was because of the heroic actions of some of the armed individuals, the volunteer church security guards, that more lives weren't taken. One

of those individuals, a man named Jack Wilson, was the volunteer head of security at the church.

We know that he was someone who was running for local office. He actually trained a lot of the members of this community to defend themselves. He

trained this church to prepare for these kinds of deadly attacks. Take a listen to how he described the terrifying moments after the gunman opened



JACK WILSON, SHOT AND KILLED CHURCH GUNMAN: I know he discharged two rounds a possibly a third round, as he was going down, because one round

went towards the front of the sanctuary. When he -- after he shot Richard and Tony, he went and started towards the front of the sanctuary. And

that's when I, you know, was able to engage him. And I fired one round.


KAFANOV: Now, weapons in (ph) guns (ph) of worship may not be the norm across the country. But here in Texas, it is an increasingly common sight,

in part because of similar attacks in the past. In 2017, Hala, 26 people died at a mass shooting at a different church here in Texas.

In light of that, the state passed legislation allowing licensed handgun owners to bring their weapons into the church, for groups to arm

themselves, to protect themselves. And that is why we're seeing this situation, in this specific case, more lives were not claimed as a result.

GORANI: All right. Lucy, thanks very much.

Still to come tonight, a British teenager found guilty of lying to police in Cyprus. We hear from her lawyer who says she was forced to change her

story of gang rape by 12 Israeli men. We'll have that, coming up.


GORANI: In Somalia, the militant group Al-Shabaab is now claiming responsibility for Saturday's suicide car bombing in Mogadishu. The attack

was horrendous. It killed 85 people and injured more than 140. Now, the government says it has hit Al-Shabaab with an air strike and killed, it

claims, a senior figure in the group.

Farai Sevenzo is with us from Nairobi in Kenya. So talk to us about this counterstrike by the Somali government. What can they hope to achieve?

Shabaab clearly has very well-organized capability to strike at the heart of soft targets.

FARAI SEVENSO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's absolutely right. I mean, you know, the government spokesman, Mr. Ismael Mukhtar Omar, told CNN,

Sunday, that these airstrikes, which were done in coordination with U.S. Africa Command, were in direct response to the Afgoye (ph) December 28th


It was horrific, as you said, a massive suicide bomb taking all those lives. Also happened near Benadir University, so it's without doubt that a

lot of the victims were very young. Today, Monday, we learned that 22 seriously injured people have been flown to Qatar for treatment.

Now, what can the government hope to achieve with these strikes? You'll remember, the Somali government has a lot of partners in trying to deal

with this insidious always sort of melting-into-the-people kind of terror organization. They have the African Union troops. And of course, the

great clout of the United States Africa Command.

And this is what we heard from Major General William Gayler, the director of operations for the U.S. Africa Command. He said that these people --

Al-Shabaab -- they have attacked and killed African partners, allies and fellow Americans, that they are a global menace, and their aim really is to

export violence throughout the region, and ultimately take it to the United States' homeland itself.

So despite all that strength and power of all those partners, you know as well as I do, Hala, that Al-Shabaab is going through porous borders. It

attacked a hotel in Nairobi in January the 15th of this year, 2019, killing over 20 Kenyans.

So it's very difficult to pin them down. They seem to be able to just melt away and then come back with such a horrific attack yet again.

GORANI: Yes. And Al-Shabaab's network, how is it all financed? I mean, where is the money? Because in these cases of terrorist groups, really,

you have to kind of look back at who's -- what organizations, what money flows are allowing them to continue to operate in this way. Where does it

come from for Al-Shabaab?

SEVENSO: Well, Hala, you know, while we try and report on this group, we know that they have some very strong networks of supporters within that

country. That there's always failures of intelligence for the Somali forces, in not expecting these things to happen.

Remember, a couple of months or so back -- I can't remember exactly when -- when they were hitting hotels were politicians were meeting, it turned out

that even the informers were coming from hotel waiters and things like that. So it's very difficult to stamp it out.

And of course, you know, Al-Shabaab is just one of those terror groups that's affecting so many parts of Africa. We've got Mali, Burkina Faso,

northeast Nigeria. It's going to be a big part of Africa's 2020, Hala, this terror menace.

GORANI: Unfortunately. Thanks very much, Farai Sevenzo.

A British teenager will be sentenced next month on charges that she lied to the police after recanting a story of gang rape in Cyprus. CNN's Mark

Bolton tells us the woman says police pressured her to change her story.

MARK BOLTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A 19-year-old British woman has been found guilty of lying to Cypriot police over claims that she was raped by 12

Israeli youths. The claims surround an alleged attack on July the 17th in Ayia Napa. Ten days after making the accusation, she retracted her

statements and was arrested by Cypriot police.

The judge handing down the guilty verdict said she'd made convenient and evasive statements, that she hadn't told the truth in court. She said

she'd fabricated the events because she was ashamed that her sexual acts had been filmed on mobile phones.

In court, the unnamed lady insisted that she had been raped and that she was pressurized into changing her account. Her legal team believe there

are several grounds for appeal.


MICHAEL POLAK, DEFENDANT'S LAWYER: She was kept there for seven hours -- over seven hours -- without a lawyer, without a translator. And she says

immense pressure was placed upon her to give that retraction statement. She was actually sending social media messages to her friends, saying,

they've said I'm not allowed a lawyer, they've threatened a (INAUDIBLE) review. They've said that the next time I'll see my mother will be in

handcuffs if I don't give them a retraction statement.


BOLTON: In court, the British woman admitted she was in a consensual sexual relationship with one of the men. But on the alleged occasion, the

others arrived uninvited, held her down and raped her. None of the 12 Israeli youths accused were in court for the proceedings.

A lawyer for four of the 12 said he hoped a harsh punishment would be imposed to reflect the damage done to his clients. The woman has already

spent over a month in jail, had her passport removed and hasn't been able to leave the island.

The sentence will be handed down on January the 7th. She faces up to a year of jail time. Mark Bolton, CNN, London.

GORANI: There were some protestors there, in Cyprus, screaming at the authorities, we believe her, we believe her. We'll continue to follow that


Coming up, after Russia first announced it, there was radio silence from the White House. But the Trump administration is now acknowledging that a

phone call happened between the U.S. president and Vladimir Putin. Find out what they discussed.


Also officials in Sidney are getting fireworks ready for New Year's Eve celebrations, but nearly a quarter of a million people say the resources

could be better spent. We'll explain, next.


GORANI: A day after Russia announced that Vladimir Putin had spoken by phone with U.S. President, Donald Trump, the White House is now providing

its own read out of the call.

Let's get details from our Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for more. So, we understand from the White House that Vladimir Putin called Donald Trump,

thanking him for some intelligence, helping foil an attack in Russia. Does the read out of the Kremlin -- is it -- does it confirm what the White

House is saying was said?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it confirms it to a certain degree, but there are certain discrepancies, if you will,

as well, or at least the kremlin account, I would say, is a little shorter than the one that came from the White House.

First of all, as far as that terror attack that was apparently foiled is concern. Both sides very much in the same page as far as has that bit of


The Russians are saying that they've got a tip off from what they call American special services which most here in Russia believe that the FBI,

saying that there were people who are plotting attacks in St. Petersburg on New Year's Day.

Now, the Russians say they arrested two people. And today, earlier today, have said that those two people have pleaded guilty to indeed plotting

those attacks.

So one of the things that Vladimir Putin did is he thanked President Trump for that intelligence cooperation which apparently is still very much going

on. Some of the Russians have made sort of a not a big deal, but a good deal of today when also the spokesman for Vladimir Putin was speaking about

how that cooperation is still very much working.

Now, the second part of it was the kremlin -- and as you stated, they were 24 hours, at least, earlier than the White House coming up with their

statement. They were just saying that the other points that were discussed were point of mutual interests.

Now, the White House state it goes a little bit further than that, saying that arms control was one of the things that was also discussed, Hala.

And that's something that's actually pretty key. Because of course the U.S. and Russia have been quite at odds, as far as arms control is

concerned, a key arms control treaty the U.S. left earlier this year, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty saying that the Russians were

cheating on that treaty, the Russians, for their part, blaming the U.S. for getting rid of the treaty.

But the two men talked about this only three days after Vladimir Putin came out and said that the Russians, for the first time, now have an active

regiment of what they call hypersonic weapons, which is essentially a weapon that's long-term intercontinental ballistic missile and then goes 20

times the speed of sound. It can allegedly evade any sort of counter measures.


And so it really comes at a key time when the Russians are sort of talking about new weapons that they believe no one else has and that's certainly

something that they might believe is also an incentive to get back to those arms control talks as well, Hala.

GORANI: All right. Thanks very much, Fred Pleitgen.

Tens of thousands of people in southeastern Australia are being told that maybe too late to evacuate as deadly wildfires rage through the state of

Victoria fueled by very high, even scorching temperatures and extreme winds.

Meanwhile, despite a total fire ban, authorities are moving forward with Sidney's annual New Year's Eve fireworks.

CNN's Rosemary Church has our story.


ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST (voice-over): As the New Year approaches, Australian authorities have a clear message for anyone in

eastern Victoria.

ANDREW CRISP, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT COMMISSIONER: If you're holidaying in that part of the state, it's time that you left.

CHURCH: Tens of thousands of residents and vacationers in southeastern Australia are being told to evacuate, as strong winds and soaring

temperatures fuel massive bush fires.

Across the country, extreme warnings in effect as firefighters battled dozens of blazes, the worst blaze near Sidney where fireworks are set to be

lit on New Year's Eve despite a total fire ban. Officials say the world famous display will ring in 2020.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS, NEW SOUTH WALES RURAL FIRE SERVICE: Obviously, this is not a -- this is not a new thing. New Year's Eve and other events coincide

with bad fire weather and total fire bans. But what we will be doing is working with local foreign rescue, the authorities and just making sure

that any perceived risks based on the conditions are merely right appropriately to ensure they can go ahead safely.

CHURCH: Despite assurances from officials, calls grow louder to cancel the fireworks, more than a quarter million people signed the petition to scrap

the event asking that millions of dollars usually spent on the display be redistributed to efforts like firefighting and animal care instead. But

organizers say cancelling would only hurt local businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Preparations for these celebrations began 15 months ago, which means that most of the budget largely used for crowd safety and

cleansing measures has already been spent. So cancelling would have little practical benefit for devastated communities.

CHURCH: In some of those devastated communities, homes and businesses are left in ruins. Since September, the prolonged fires have led little risk

for those fighting the destructive flames. And they're often volunteers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Payments for income lost --

CHURCH: The prime minister says volunteers will now be compensated for their efforts in the worst hit state of New South Wales.

STEWART TEMESVARY, VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER: Fifteen, sixteen hours shift in a row, you're exhausted at the end of the day and you might have one day

break and then they want you to go again. It's tough. It's tough.

The payment is just a recognition of what we're doing. It doesn't compensate us for what we are doing but it is recognition.

CHURCH: Some volunteers saying they appreciate the acknowledgment after fighting weeks of raging fires that show few signs of stopping.

Rosemary Church, CNN.


GORANI: Well, we've been watching as people work to save koalas across Australia who are also in danger from these fires. It is their natural


Take a look at this incredible moment. A koala in the middle of the road, approaches a group of cyclists, appearing to beg them for water.

One cyclist, as you can see, gives every last drop of her water to the thirsty -- oh, gosh, poor thing. Officials say almost a third of koalas in

Australia, New South Wales region may have been killed in these deadly bush fires, clearly parched. Poor old guy.

Zimbabwe is also on the frontlines of the global climate crisis once an African bread basket, as it was known. It is getting hotter there and it

is getting drier. The U.N. says nearly eight million people there, half the country's population are facing severe food shortages over the next six


CNN's David McKenzie reports.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's incredible, isn't it? The Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of

the world. But -- and it's a big but -- this entire stretch of rock should be churning with white water. Climate scientists say that the climate

crisis is hemorrhaging this region.

MCKENZIE: A multi-year drought has transformed Zimbabwe's rivers and farmland into miles upon miles of sand and scorched earth.

Here, they don't speculate about climate change, they're suffering because of it.

Once proud productive farmers like Felistus Noube, reduced to handouts to survive, reduced to just one meal a day.

FELISTUS NOUBE, DROUGHT VICTIM: The rains was so (INAUDIBLE) enough food, but nowadays (INAUDIBLE) there's no rain.


MCKENZIE: It's a hunger gripping a U.N.-estimated 45 million people. And in this part of Africa, the climate crisis is only getting worse.

FRANCOIS ENGELBRECHT, GLOBAL CHANGE INSTITUTE, WITS UNIVERSITY: The region is projected to be warming at more or less double the global rate of


MCKENZIE: Scientist, Francois Engelbrecht, is a lead author on key U.N.- backed climate reports.

ENGELBRECHT: At the current rate, the southern Africa region, five decades from now, will be unrecognizable compared to the region we are living in


MCKENZIE: And in a future without aggressive emissions reductions, almost unlivable.

Where day zero events like when Cape Town almost ran out of water last year, are three times more likely. And cyclones, like Idai slamming into

Mozambique in March, will become more powerful and more frequent.

Extreme events punishing countries that did little to cause climate change.

ENGELBRECHT: We should realize that if we look at the historical responsibility for the problem of global warming, the entire African's

contribution is still in the order of a percent.

MCKENZIE (on-camera): One percent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, one percent.

MCKENZIE (voice over): But now among the first to feel its devastating effects.

I wish they could stop climate change, because we are the ones who are now suffering, Noube says. If the climate stays like this, we won't make it.

David McKenzie, CNN, western Zimbabwe.


GORANI: Still to come. A Chinese scientist gets jail time for what some call a monstrous experiment. We'll tell you more about what he did ahead.


GORANI: It was a controversial experiment from the day it was announced.

Now, a Chinese court has sentenced the scientist to prison for his role in the creation of gene-edited babies.

David Culver has the details.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A Chinese scientist will spend the next three years in prison and pay a hefty fine for his role in


Chinese state-run media says a court sentenced He Jiankui Monday. He said that he altered the DNA of three babies before birth when they were

embryos. The scientist claiming in 2018 that his changes reduced the risk of the baby's contracting HIV.

The announcement led to an immediate backlash. Critics from international medical communities slammed He and his team, warning their actions could

lead to unknown genetic problems for the three children later in life.

And Chinese authorities began an immediate investigation, alleging that He and two others violated an explicit law banning embryo-editing.

State media says the three men pleaded guilty ahead of their sentencing in Monday. Adding that He and two medical researchers, "Failed to obtain a

doctor's qualification and pursued profit deliberately violated the relevant national regulations on scientific research and medical management

crossed the bottom line on scientific and medical ethics and rashly applied gene-editing technology to human assisted reproductive medicine, disrupting

the medical treatment.


The state media also saying that provincial authorities held accountable the units and personnel involved, banning some of those involved, including

He from taking part in human reproductive research for life.

David Culver. CNN, Hong Kong.


GORANI: Terror attack and attempted coup and massive protests, just some of the headlines from a very busy year in international news.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has a look back at the top global headlines of 2019.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the decade comes to a close, so does another tumultuous year.

2019 was marked by global protests, brutal terrorist attacks, and political instability. And CNN was there has it all happened.

Number nine.

THERESA MAY, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: I will shorty leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold.

WARD: Theresa May stepped down as British Prime Minister after failing to secure Brexit, the U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union. She was

replaced by Boris Johnson who called for an early election in December, hoping to break the Brexit impasse.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: With a major victory for British, Prime Minister Boris Johnson --

BORIS JOHNSON, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: And yes, they will have an overwhelming mandate from this election to get Brexit done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many MPs who lost their seats have blamed Jeremy Corbyn and saying people decided that he just wasn't the kind of leader

they want.

WARD: Boris Johnson vowing to get Brexit done by the end of January.

Number eight. China ramps up its persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: China doesn't want you to know the secret behind these walls. Men, women, children, sometimes entire families separated from each

other, cut off from the outside world. The U.S. State Department says they live in prison-like conditions, locked up not for what they did, but who

they are. Members of Muslim minority groups from Xinjiang province in China's far west.

WARD: Human rights groups alleged that two million members of the ethnic minority are being detained in sprawling secret camps. The Chinese

government denies this, says the Uyghurs are voluntarily enrolled in "vocational training centers."

Number seven. A holy day meant for rest and worship turns deadly in Sri Lanka.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An entire country shaken after hundreds of people are killed in a wave of bombings. This is

Sri Lanka. More than 200 people are dead, hundreds more wounded in three separate cities.

WARD: Ten days before the massacre, an intelligence memo warned of a possible attack, raising questions about whether more could have been done

to prevent the bloodshed. Two of the suicide bombers were brothers, members of a prominent wealthy Muslim family. ISIS claimed responsibility

for the attack.

Number six. Power in numbers. Citizens from almost every continent, flood their city centers and demand systemic change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mass protests against income inequality have gone on for two weeks. Twenty people have been killed.

WARD: Some protesters paid the highest price but their movements force dictators out of power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning, a military transitional council announced the end of Omar al-Bashir's 30-year reign, a dictatorship known for its

brutality against its own citizens.

WARD: Confronted economic inequality, fought for democracy, and reaffirmed the underestimated power of a people united.

Number five. The world's most wanted terrorist cornered and killed.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As we are getting some major news out of the Middle East, ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to have been killed.

WARD: President Trump announces U.S. Special Forces conducted an overnight raid in Syria. Al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest killing himself and

three children when he was cornered in a tunnel.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.S. Special Forces were in the compound for about two hours, and were able to gather what's described as highly sensitive

material on ISIS before pulling out and flying back to Iraq.

WARD: Days later, ISIS announces a new leader of the caliphate. Baghdadi's death symbolizes the destruction of the Islamic State, but not

the end of its violent ideology.


Number four. The deadliest terror attack in New Zealand's modern history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police say these were the actions of a lone gunman whose rampage began with the attack on the Al Noor mosque and subsequently

the Linwood mosque.

WARD: The massacre claims the lives of 51 people, and wounds 49.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ended up having to put the bodies over top of other bodies on (INAUDIBLE) stretchers. There was no -- and those people were

bleeding, and there's a lot of blood.

WARD: The gunman, a 28-year-old self-described white supremacist, armed with military-style weapons and live streaming the massacre from a helmet

cam. He posted an 87-page manifesto on social media just hours before the attack. New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, vows to take action on

gun violence.

JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND: Today, I'm announcing that New Zealand will ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. We will

also ban all assault rifles.

WARD: Number three. A power struggle in Venezuela ushers in an era of violence and poverty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The breaking news straight out of Venezuela. Juan Guaido, the country's self-declared interim president and opposition leader

urging the military today to join him to take to the streets to force out the President, Nicolas Maduro.

WARD: After what critics described as an illegitimate inauguration of Maduro, Guaido, challenge Maduro's claim to the presidency. President

Trump recognizes Guaido as the legitimate president. Maduro accuses the United States of backing an attempted coup and expels U.S. diplomats from

the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world watched as a stark message was sent to protesters. Maduro's forces would not tolerate dissent. Human rights

activists say they're being backed up by an unprecedented police crackdown.

WARD: The United States sanctions Venezuela's government owned oil company. But almost a full year later, Maduro remains in power, more

resilient than his opponents expected. As for the Venezuelans, Guaido once inspired, they continue to suffer from government corruption, inflation and

hunger, losing faith that much will change.

Number two. Abandoning a commitment creating a vacuum.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: An invasion is underway in northern Syria. Turkey's President, Erdogan, said the military

offensive there has begun.

TRUMP: And our soldiers have been coming back over that period of time.

WARD: Days earlier, President Trump makes an abrupt announcement that he is withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria, clearing the way for Turkey

to launch and offensive. The move essentially abandons Kurdish fighters who have fought alongside American forces to defeat ISIS, seeding power to

Turkey, cementing Bashar Al-Assad's grip on Syria, and benefiting the regional ambitions of Russia and Iran.

At number one. A pro-democracy movement fights for autonomy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking overnight from Hong Kong, protesters flooding the streets clashing with police, as Hong Kong marks 22 years

since it was formerly returned to China.

WARD: Frustrations were ignited with the proposal of a controversial extradition bill that would see Mainland China's authority over the semi-

autonomous region grow. At its peak, organizers estimate as many as two million took to the streets.

The extradition bill was suspended, but as violent and property damage grew, so did the protester's demands. They wanted an independent

investigation into police actions, the release of all those arrested, conditions that proved unpalatable to authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there is no end in sight to this short political divisions and this crisis that has plunged Hong Kong into economic

recession, the worst crisis the city has seen in a generation.


GORANI: There's still a few more days left to 2019.

Still to come tonight, the price of fame. No one believes it's really you. The story of the actress and the dating app when we come back.



GORANI: The sun was shining on Big Ben this morning. The iconic bell has been disconnected since restoration began on its tower in 2017. But

Londoners and lucky tourists around the world will remember this sound.

They were testing it in preparation for the New Year's Eve celebration here in London. If you're in town, find a good spot on the River Thames for

that or if you're like me just watching it on T.V.

And finally, the social media world is full of people pretending to be who they are not. But one celebrity got kicked off in social media app because

no one believe it was really her.

Actress Sharon Stone took to Twitter to complain that her Bumble account had been deactivated. Her account was turned off after other users saw

profile for Sharon Stone and they figured it must be fake.

Bumble apologized and quickly restored Stone's account. The actress has been divorced for more than a decade. Unclear if she's looking for love or

maybe just friendship, but clearly, she says she wants to be on Bumble to meet somebody. It might be you, if you're lucky.

Thanks for watching tonight. I'm Hala Gorani. Do stay with CNN, there is a lot more ahead on the other side of the break. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is

coming your way.